Public Assistance and Alcoholism/Drug Abuse

This Legal Life Line explains some of the rules of the New York State cash public assistance programs as they apply to drug addiction and alcohol abuse. The New York cash assistance programs are Safety Net benefits (SN) and Family Assistance benefits (FA).

Must an Applicant Participate in a Drug or Alcohol Rehabilitation Program?

All applicants for cash public assistance benefits and those recertifying for ongoing assistance, must be screened to determine if they have a potential substance abuse problem. Those persons who are identified as having a potential substance abuse problem must be evaluated by a certified substance abuse counselor to determine if they do have a substance abuse problem and, if so, whether that substance abuse problem prevents the person from working.

If a person is diagnosed with a substance abuse problem and the substance abuse problem prevents the person from working, the person is required to participate in appropriate substance abuse treatment.

What Are the Consequences for Refusing to Participate in a Rehabilitation Program?

If the recipient is required by DSS to participate in substance abuse treatment and refuses to participate without good cause, the recipient will be disqualified from public assistance benefits. The first time an applicant or recipient fails to participate or complete required treatment, he will be sanctioned and disqualified for 45 days. This means the person cannot receive public assistance benefits. The second offense will result in a 120 day disqualification. The third and subsequent failures will result in 180 day disqualification periods. In any event, benefits will not be restored unless and until the recipient returns to appropriate treatment.

What is Good Cause for Failing to Participate in or Failing to Complete a Rehabilitation Program?

Good cause will be found in instances where the recipient can demonstrate that an unforeseen event beyond the recipient’s control prevented the recipient from participating in rehab. Examples might include a medical emergency, a death in the family, or a conflict with a job.   Good cause may also be shown when DSS, the rehab facility, and the recipient all agree that the recipient is in need of a different rehab program than the one which he was originally referred.

An individual who has left a residential program prior to completion, but enters an outpatient program and demonstrates to DSS that his condition has substantially improved, may also have good cause for failing to participate in an in-patient or residential rehab program.

Can DSS Require a Recipient to Enroll in a Second Rehabilitation Program if They Have Completed the First Program?

It is the rehab program, and not DSS or the case worker, which determines whether the individual has completed the program. However, as long as alcohol or other substance abuse remains a primary cause of need for the individual, DSS may continue to refer the individual for additional treatment programs.

Must Public Assistance Recipients Who Suffer From Substance Abuse Participate in the employment activities?

If a person has been found to have a substance abuse problem that prevents them from working, DSS cannot require that they participate in work activities such as classes, training and job search until after the person has attended and successfully completed a substance abuse program.

If a person is found to have a substance abuse problem, but that substance abuse problem does not prevent them from working, DSS can require that person to participate in employment activities. Furthermore, DSS can require substance abuse treatment to be an employment activity for that person.

If a person who is required to attend treatment as part of their employment activities fails to attend the required treatment, DSS can sanction the person for failure to complete their employment activity.

What Can a Person Who Is Required to Attend Treatment Do if They Think They Should Not Have to Attend Treatment?

A person who is required by DSS to attend treatment can ask for a Fair Hearing. A Fair Hearing must be requested within 60 days of the time the person is told in writing by DSS that they must attend substance abuse treatment. At the fair hearing, the person will have to show that they do not have a substance abuse problem or that they have good cause for not attending treatment.

What Can a Person Who Is Being Sanctioned for Failure to Attend Treatment Do if They Think They Have Good Cause for Not Attending Treatment?

A person who is being sanctioned for not attending treatment can request a Fair Hearing within 60 days of being told in writing by DSS that they are being sanctioned. At the Fair Hearing, the person will have to show that they have good cause for not attending the treatment program.

 Will the Legal Aid Society Assist Individuals Who Are Denied or Terminated from Public Assistance Due to Failure to Participate in Either a Drug or Alcohol Rehabilitation Program, or Failure to Participate in the JOBS Program?

The Legal Aid Society may be able to assist individuals who are denied or cut off from public assistance under these circumstances. However, before deciding to represent someone, we must evaluate the case, the facts, and the circumstances surrounding the denial or termination. An individual who would like representation should call our office and be placed on intake.